Innovation and cultural transmission in the American Paleolithic: Phylogenetic analysis of eastern Paleoindian projectile-point classes

Michael J. O'Brien*, Matthew T. Boulanger, Briggs Buchanan, Mark Collard, R. Lee Lyman, John Darwent

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

86 Citations (Scopus)


North American fluted projectile points are the quintessential temporally diagnostic artifacts, occurring over a relatively short time span, from ca. 13,300 calBP to ca. 11,900 calBP, commonly referred to as the Early Paleoindian period. Painting with a broad brush, points from the Plains and Southwest exhibit less diversity in shape than what is found in the East, especially for the later half of the Early Paleoindian period. It remains unclear how various fluted-point forms relate to each other and whether the continent-wide occurrence of the earliest fluted-point forms represents a single cultural expression, albeit with regional differences. We used phylogenetic analysis to evaluate fluted-point classes from the eastern United States. Preliminary results suggest that there is both temporal and spatial patterning of some classes and that much of the variation in form has to do with modifications to hafting elements. Although our analyses are presently at a coarse scale, it appears that different kinds of learning could contribute in part to regional differences in point shape. (C) 2014 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)100-119
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Anthropological Archaeology
Early online date12 Apr 2014
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2014

Bibliographical note

We thank John O’Shea and an anonymous reviewer for suggestions for greatly improving the original manuscript. We also thank Kristin Safi and Mark Madsen for inviting us to participate in the 2012 Society for American Archaeology symposium on cultural transmission in which we presented some of the ideas that are expanded here. MC is supported by the Canada Research Chairs Program, the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the British Columbia Knowledge Development Fund, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, and Simon Fraser University.


  • cladistics
  • classification
  • Clovis
  • cultural transmission
  • fluted points
  • L. Friedkin Site
  • Southeastern United-States
  • Buttermilk Creek Complex
  • North-America
  • Great-Basin
  • geometric morphometrics
  • experimental simulation
  • artifact distributions
  • Austronesian Societies
  • terminal Pleistocene


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